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Don’t be afraid to freshen up traditional furniture

Posted on July 23 2021

Decorating and design have been my work for some 63 years, so I guess it is safe to say that I am not a newcomer to the creative block. 

And I’ve learned during my career to respect the past while always keeping an eye on the future. 

During my years as president of Dorothy Draper & Co. I have designed furniture, fabrics, wallpapers, accessories, rugs and lighting, from lamp bases to shades. I have decorated the interiors — and sometimes the exteriors — of more than 400 hotels and inns, including projects in Palm Beach at The Breakers, The Colony and the Brazilian Court. And, of course, I have worked with clients on many houses and apartments. 

I recently took a fresh look at a chair originally designed by my mentor, the late Dorothy Draper.

The Jefferson Chair is named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, whom I have always admired for his marvelous architectural talents. His Monticello estate is a masterpiece while his garden designs were beyond creative genius. Even his White House china pattern is among my favorites — although I must add that I love the Lyndon Johnson china, with its floral pattern, as well.   

Dorothy Draper created The Jefferson Chair for use in the President’s Parlor at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia when it opened in 1950. The back of the chair features a hand-carved American eagle, fully gold-leafed, along with gold detail accents on the frame.

The reimagined Jefferson chair, designed for Kindel Furniture Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was introduced in June at the massive to-the-trade furniture market in High Point, North Carolina. And while I was not there in person, a cardboard cut-out of yours truly was at the Kindel showroom alongside the chair. I enjoyed seeing photographs of the attendees standing beside “me” and The Jefferson.

I always enjoy designing furniture that can be adapted to work in a wide variety of settings — and The Jefferson Chair fits that description. It can be distinctly formal, with a walnut stain, or it can be more casual with a finish of champagne or strawberry-pink lacquer.

I can envision a beach house, for instance, with the chair finished in sunshine yellow or Caribbean blue — and instead of a golden eagle, perhaps, a white one. In that setting, I’d love to see the seat covered in brilliant aquamarine or a stripe of hibiscus pink and white. 

I’m certainly not alone in taking a fresh approach to traditional designs. I often see today’s decorators reinventing old looks, as formal chairs and sofas are updated with painted finishes in bright colors and upholstery in checks, stripes, florals and geometric designs. 

That’s a beautiful way to keep up with times, isn’t it?

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